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Ralph in William Golding's Lord Of The Flies

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William Golding’s literary masterpiece, Lord of the Flies, is closely examined by experts and amateurs for its powerful characters, themes, and plot. Golding’s characters evolve and mature throughout the novel, each losing a part of himself as the story progresses. After all, as one trades innocence and naiveté for maturity and understanding, his systems of beliefs and his thoughts must change. These changes are often a result of being removed from a familiar environment, in which case the individual is forced to adapt quickly to a new one. Throughout Golding’s insightful novel, the protagonist, Ralph, develops from an immature child with romantic ideals to a boy whose experiences have brought him maturity and wisdom beyond his years. The course of his friendship with Piggy, the thought of rescue, and the responsibility of assuming a leadership role cause Ralph to mature quickly, and ultimately forces his thoughts and beliefs to become similar to those of an adult: brutally realistic and weary of potential dangers.
The intelligent boy called Piggy is Ralph’s first companion on the island, and the development of their relationship from acquaintance to true friendship mirrors the growth in Ralph’s maturity level. Ralph proves to be quite inconsiderate at the start of the novel: against Piggy’s wishes, he tells the other boys Piggy’s unfortunate nickname, and when Jack forcibly takes Piggy’s glasses to star the fire, Ralph shoves him aside. Ralph is childish because he cannot stand up for those who are weaker than he is, even when he knows it is the right thing to do. Although he is relatively kind to Piggy, he thinks “Piggy [is] a bore; his fat, his ass-mar, and his matter-of-fact ideas were dull (Golding 59).” This description shows his immaturity and showcases the fact that Ralph has yet to learn some important lessons: to look past appearances, to appreciate one’s intelligence, and to understand that dull ideas are not necessarily bad ones. Ralph quickly realizes the importance of all these lessons when he realizes how valuable Piggy’s friendship really is: “Piggy could think. He could go step by step inside that fat head of his, only Piggy was no chief. But Piggy, for all his ludicrous body, had brains (71).” Through several unfortunate events such as the death of the boy with the mulberry birthmark and the passing of the rescue ship, Ralph has realized the value of Piggy’s rational thinking. Very much like an adult would, Ralph finally looks past Piggy’s flaws (fat and ass-mar) to see his full potential. Piggy becomes Ralph’s advisor, and remains loyal to him even when all the other boys have joined Jack’s tribe. Eventually, Ralph stands up for Piggy in front of Jack, something he was not able to do at the beginning of the novel. When Piggy is murdered, the boys’ deep bond is broken and Ralph is devastated, later wishing he had his friend there to help him think of the sensible thing to do to escape Jack’s savage tribe. To Ralph, Piggy’s death was undeniable evidence of human capacity for evil, and it completed his mental transition from a naive boy to a wise individual. Had the circumstances never forced him to rely on Piggy for companionship, ideas, and support, Ralph would have never had this maturing experience. Over the course of the novel, Ralph’s bond with Piggy deepens substantially, and the influence of this true friend causes his thoughts to become less child-like and more mature.
As Ralph’s right-hand man, Piggy often reminds him of the most important thing on the island: the rescue fire. The thought of being rescued from the island is one that starts plaguing Ralph after a period of time, but his feelings about this intensify as the story goes on, showcasing how Ralph’s thoughts change in the novel. His naïve thoughts about being saved by his father show that he is an unrealistic boy who has likely been sheltered all his life. Ralph does not really consider rescue important at the beginning of the novel, he would much rather explore and have a jolly good time with the other boys. However, when a ship passes by the island while the signal fire was not lit, Ralph experiences what the feeling of true bitterness and anger feels like: “Ralph clenched his fist and went very red. The intentness of his gaze, the bitterness of his voice, pointed for [Jack] (62).” His romantic ideas about having a fun time on the island vanish at this point, and are replaced with despair and mistrust. Children are always very trusting, and they are not aware of certain dangers, whereas Ralph’s attitude towards Jack becomes the opposite of this. From this point on, Ralph constantly worries about the fire, and keeping it up is almost always his number one priority: “The fire’s the most important thing. Without the fire we can’t be rescued. I’d like to put on war paint and be a savage. But we must keep the fire burning (74).” His dedication to making smoke for rescue is very uncharacteristic of the carefree child he was at the beginning of the novel. When a naval officer finally comes to the island and saves the boys, he is already too late in many aspects. For instance, Ralph had already been removed from his rather sheltered childhood, and his romantic ideals had long since been replaced by his brutal experience on the island. Ralph’s attitude towards the importance of rescue changes as the story progresses, and ultimately shows how his thoughts grow similar to those of an adult over the course of the novel.
Keeping the rescue fire going is one aspect of Ralph’s responsibilities as the leader of the boys. Although Ralph is initially unaware of all the responsibilities that come along with the title of chief, he accepts them all as they come, and the burden of these responsibilities causes his views to change drastically. At the start of the novel, Ralph is a child who is unused to doing physical labour, caring for others, and being in charge of a large group. At this point of the novel, Ralph is relatively carefree: he loves exploring the island and does not worry much about rescue. He takes less care of the littluns and hopes they will help build the shelters, an unrealistic expectation to ask of such young children. In the middle of the novel, he has already realized the harsh reality of the situation: the littluns are terrified of beasties, a ridge is growing between his followers and Jack’s group, and fear is constantly present on the island. Although Ralph started out quite indifferent to the feelings of others, he must now consider everyone’s thoughts around him. He shoulders the responsibility like a genuine leader would, and he comforts the little ones, tries his best to avoid conflict with Jack, and never gives up on his insistence to keep the fire running.

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